Jazz fans are passionate to a fault, and us jazz bloggers even more so. In the wake of Terry Teachout's Wall Street Journal piece on the decline of the jazz audience, a whole host of bloggers have picked the piece apart, started a campaign to promote live jazz, and offered suggested albums to recommend to non-jazz listeners, among other responses. While the responses were thoughtful, they also (inadvertently) reveal a sense of defensive panic, as if we bloggers need to prove the vitality of jazz in the 21st century.
But I wish to offer a slightly more optimistic take on the situation. Instead of talking about the audience, I'll follow Patrick Jarenwattananon's lead and instead focus on the music. What is lost in the uproar over the audience is the fact that we are currently living in a golden age of piano trios. Not only are there a bunch of exciting groups putting out fantastic music, but the pantheon of these trios all have such an individual sound that even jazz neophytes can tell them apart. Below are just a few of the trios that are making the present moment such a satisfying one for jazz listeners.
Brad Mehldau Trio: Mehldau has loomed large over the jazz scene for over a decade, and his trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard have put out a number of great albums over the last decade. I consider them the standard bearer of this group.
The Bad Plus: Though we may be tempted to dub them enfants terribles for their deconstructive covers of pop and rock tunes, The Bad Plus are more of a postmodern edition of the traditional jazz piano trio.
Vijay Iyer Trio: I'll let the rest of the jazz blogosphere do the talking here. I'll be giving their newest album, Historicity, a full review soon, but suffice it to say that it might be the best album of 2009. Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore have a fantastic musical rapport.
Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: The reigning master of repertory, along with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, will consistently knock your socks off with their discursive explorations of standards.
Robert Glasper Trio: Glasper gets a bit more pub for his Experiment band, but the acoustic trio is also a pretty good show.
Jason Moran's Bandwagon: Moran packs the entire history of jazz piano in his playing, but keeps it fresh and exciting. Bassist Tauras Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits match him blow for blow in energy.
Medeski Martin & Wood: Probably the most sui generis of this list, which is saying something. John Medeski usually sticks to electric instruments, but he is underrated on the acoustic piano.
Did I forget someone? Let me know in the comments...
Image via EyeShotJazz.